‘Be-All’ Chicago transgender conference called off after 30 years

Updated Dec. 31, 1:07 p.m.

beallconferenceOrganizers of one of the nation’s largest transgender conferences, Be-All Chicago, said Friday the popular gathering’s May 2012 conference in Downers Grove would be its last.

The conference, which welcomed transexual, transgender, friends, family and allies for several days of programming to the Double Tree Suites Hotel, announced the end to its 30-year run on Facebook and its website.

Olivia Connors, chair of Be-All Chicago, told Chicago Phoenix that a 2013 conference would not be possible due to the economy and large declines in attendance over the last two years.

“As any event, you need a base of folks for a successful conference and our numbers were slowing down,” Connors said. “Another year could have put us in a dangerous financial position.”

Erica Neumann, who has worked on the Be-All staff for over six years, said the 2012 event fell short of brining in enough funds for another year, considering increases of up to 15 percent on hotel fees.

In prior years, the conference offered resources and welcoming social spaces for the transgender community, such as dozens of professional seminars and workshops, vendor shops for business and services, social excursions and keynote speakers.

Connors said the conference has seen several significant successes since moving to Chicago, specifically the friendships formed among staff, volunteers and attendees.

“That will be missed greatly,” said Connors. “I also know we save and changed many lives over the years and nothing can be better than that!”

The quality of the conference cannot be matched by other transgender events, Connors said.

One feature that made Be-All different from other transgender conferences was the donated food, drinks and services from Chicag0 area LGBT-owned or supportive bars, restaurants and businesses, said Neumann.

“That was a huge savings and a great place to meet each other outside of the meetings and seminars,” Neumann said.

However, despite the achievements over the years, Be-All Chicago saw up to a 30 percent decline in attendance over the last two years. Connors attributes this to growing opportunities for transgender people.

The biggest decline came from young transgender people, according to Neumann, mostly because they could not afford to attend the conference each year. Three-day packages to attend started at $100 plus $114 per night for a hotel room.

A complete package for the conference was $295.

“We were able to do scholarships, but we can’t do that every year,” Neumann said. “We’ve tried to encourage them to come and offer the right programs they want to hear and see, but what I’ve seen throughout our community in the last six to seven years these kids are living their lives on a daily basis now.”

Young transgender people don’t need the comfort and protection of a conference, Neumann said. Connors voiced a similar explanation.

“The reasons for the decline are many but one stand-out is transgender folks have so many other opportunities right now,” said Connors. “They can pretty much go where they want.”

However, supporters of a transgender conference have already reached out to Neumann about taking over Be-All with new management or creating an entirely new and smaller conference in Chicago, but Neumann said such an undertaking is more complex than it sounds.

“It would be hard for a new management team to come and sustain all of that,” she said. “Especially with only six months to go, it would be hard to get a group together.”

Neumann also notes the increasingly popularity and attendance at the Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference, a three-day event focusing on transgender health and medical topics that is offered at no cost to attendees.

In addition, Neumann said that the cancellation could be only for the 2013 event, and that it may return one day.

“We might be able to rectify it.”